Three young girls held hostage and tortured for a decade by a sadistic school bus driver in Ohio…A fifteen-year-old in Miami put in a chokehold for giving police officers “dehumanizing looks”…Five California teenagers killed in a horrific car crash in Newport Beach, vehicle going 100 plus miles an hour splits completely in half. These quick snapshots from the 24-hour news cycle are enough to make you want to keep your own child locked inside the house. And for many parents they mean living in constant terror at what the world has in store for our children. And of course when we live in fear, fear is what we pass on to our little ones.
It is my hope and my prayer that we can use these terrifying episodes as teachable moments to make ourselves better parents. And of course I would love for us to remember that they are aberrations. They are not the norm. That is what makes them headlines.
Whenever something challenging or awful happens in my life I always look for the lessons. What can I learn from this and how can I leave it behind?
As a Talk Radio Host, there is some news so grim, I find myself asking “what is there to say about this, really?” The disgusting tale of Ariel Castro raping, beating and imprisoning three vibrant and beautiful young girls was one of those kinds of stories. My teachable moment was when I realized that the way this man kidnapped these teenagers, was by giving them rides. I am not blaming anyone. We can’t be with our children every day all day. But my teachable moment is that when my child asks me about this episode, and at every appropriate opportunity, I will teach my child never to accept a ride with anyone, ever, ever, ever.
Sadly, the stories of African American boys being attacked and killed by police don’t feel like anomalies. Even though we know most encounters between cops and kids don’t end this way, that’s hard to remember when the stories come so frequently and with such haunting similarities between them. So when 14-year-old Tremaine McMillan is slammed to the ground, placed in a chokehold, and will now have to stand trial simply for looking at officers the wrong way it is easy to be overcome with rage or despair. As the parent of an African American child it can seem more rational to be fearful than not. And with the trial of Trayvon Martin looming before us this month, we want to hold our Black little boys close and shield them from the world, my teachable moment? I believe we have a responsibility to instruct our children how to conduct themselves in the presence of law enforcement. (Trayvon is an exception because the perpetrator, George Zimmerman is not an officer, and did not identify himself as a self- proclaimed neighborhood watch, so the child was correct to defend himself.) We can spend all day arguing about whether it should be that way, and what our rights are in an ideal world. But I want my child to come out of the encounter unharmed. We can always call the lawyer later! We have to teach them to be humble, respectful, show their hands, and use “yes sir, and no ma’m.” I am not saying a lack of this behavior is a license for authorities to attack our children. But given the history at hand, I’d rather err on the side of caution.
The brutal car crash that left five Irvine teenagers dead in Newport Beach probably gave many parents nightmares. It is a worst-case scenario that could happen to any family. A seventeen-year-old driver going fast, fast, fast, slams the car into a tree. My heart went out to those young people and all of their families and friends. The teachable moment here is not an “I told you so.” It is a note-to-self. There was one boy who was supposed to go on that ride, that triple date, but his Dad said no. His father made him stay in and do homework, and thus saved his life. My note-to-self is be more like that Dad. Be nosey (“Who’s driving?” “Let me see their license” “Where are you going?”etc,) set boundaries and don’t be afraid to say no, in your child’s best interests.
These teachable moments for parents are meant to focus us on what we can do. They are not meant to prepare us for disaster but to prepare us to stay safe. I am writing this in hopes that we can move away from fear-based parenting, while setting clear boundaries and standards that allow our children to thrive and put our minds at ease. It is one small antidote to the 24-hour news cycle.